Green Chips has a conversation with Amber Boskett, Executive Director of State Renewable Energy, Board Supervisor at the Conservation District of Southern Nevada and Project Manager of the Zion Garden Park Agricultural Assistance Program.

March 06, 2017

As this is a feature about community leaders, what do you think makes a good leader?

I think that the best leader is someone that is organized and has a really good analysis of the big picture. So they are not necessarily just focussed on the little things, but they can see how all of the little things can come together to make something amazing.

Do you have a personal philosophy or approach to life?

I think it’s very important to be diligent with your work and to take it seriously. Anything you do you have to have ethics, so no matter what it is, when the timeclock stops it doesn’t mean you stop. Sometimes you just have to get to the finish line no matter how long it takes to get there. Quite frankly doing things that way I am able to get to a lot of finish lines.

What was your major in college and your path to your current position?

I studied Environmental Studies and Computer Science, an interesting combination. I also had to take some Education classes as well, before I decided exactly what I wanted to do.

It is interesting because technology has been a huge part of my background and when I discovered I had a huge passion for sustainability, putting the two together has made for an amazing career. So with my company State Renewable Energy I have always been the software side of our team and done the 3D modelling and technical side, bringing an element of technology to the field of sustainability. We do solar a lot in particular. Without the technology background I don’t think I’d be able to do, and accomplish as much as I have. So really it is the technology that has driven me to where I am so far.

Interestingly I don’t think when I was younger that I’d be doing exactly what I am doing today. I think a lot of people who are in the field of sustainability thus far didn’t go into it thinking that this is what they were going to do. It is somewhat of an emerging field in the last couple of decades. So no I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do. My first thought was that I would be an architect, I didn’t know that I would end up designing solar electric systems or wind systems for example. I wanted to be doing something with building and design but I didn’t think it would be this.

Is there one word that best describes how you work?

I’m going to go with diligent.

What keeps you engaged/passionate about your job; what drives you?

Probably the goals, and the fact that what I am doing does help people. With my company and what we do with renewables we are able to help people have access to clean renewable energy, something that they can not only have benefiting them in their lives, but they can learn about an industry that they probably don’t know about. With electricity we flip on a switch, we don’t know where it comes from or how it works and so it is exciting to be able to engage people in that way. We also have our Green STEM initiative with our company where we work with schools, and we are working to develop STEM based workforce development programs for renewable energy and green technology. So being able to bring that to the table and engage students, helping them see that it is so important for their future to take this approach towards sustainability is very exciting for me. To take that on and educate in that manner. So I really do think that is what keeps me passionate. I don’t have a stop button.

How do you re-charge?

That’s funny, you see chargeable batteries are my thing and I definitely have one. It’s funny because there are many times where I don’t incorporate a lot of breaks into my routine, but I get to that point where I tell myself it’s time, I need to take a minute. It is probably going to be an outdoor activity, hiking, fishing, tennis are things that I do when I like to take a break. That is probably the extent of it, past that I am back to work.

What are you better at than anyone else and what is your secret?

I have never thought about that question. I’ve got to think about it, there has got to be something! Let’s come back to this one.

Real quick I now have my answer. Scrabble! I’m definitely going to go with Scrabble. My secret to Scrabble, two letter words. I memorized every single one. There is Xi and Xu and yes all the rest of them. I think there is like 60, I know them all! I get points people don’t know exist.

Where are you from originally and what has surprised you the most about this community?

I am from Las Vegas. I am a native, I was born here. I have travelled and I have done work out on the Navajo Indian reservation for a little bit of time, almost a decade ago which was actually a great experience.

As far as what has surprised me about the community…It has been growing ever since I was young, it has never not been that booming city. And so I am not surprised at that, I know some people are but I’m not. It’s always been that way, I remember when I was young and the major casinos opened their doors. But I would say maybe our approach to sustainability is one that genuinely does stand out, for Las Vegas as a whole. As far as how many kilowatts are produced by green energy and our approach to water conservation. They are great features of Las Vegas.

What is your biggest hope for this community in the next 10 years? 50?

My biggest hope is that we can use the powerful resource we have here to the biggest extent possible, which is solar power. It is one of the cleanest forms of energy and we are here in Southern Nevada the place on the map that gets the second largest amount of solar radiation in the whole World. Second to a place in Africa. We beat the rest of the nation as far as how many solar hours we get in a day and so it is my hope that we can keep pushing toward that and be that example of what we can do to use that source of renewable energy.

For 50 years I would have to say that we could end up being one of the cities on the map that is a face of sustainability. That has urban agriculture and indoor agriculture. That has the most amazing water conservation plan and hopefully a lake that still has plenty of water in it.

What app or technical gadget can’t you live without? 

First and foremost it will definitely be my 3D modelling software. You name it I design everything in 3D modelling. I actually have a lot of 3D printing skills as well and the basis for that is 3D modelling. And so I can literally build whatever I want and there is something advantageous about that.

I would probably have a very hard time without my telephone, not as such a specific app but just for getting things done on the fly. And notes, oh yeah the note program. The little yellow one on your phone that you can draw on, type on, insert a picture, bam! It’s not Angry Birds! Maybe a little Scrabble, but that’s on the hush hush. I do that in the airport. I actually am the best Scrabble player that I know. I consistently get over 300 points.

What is the best advice you ever received and what would you tell young professionals starting out?

I am going to say that is probably to… this is interesting, but to slow down. My husband is constantly reminding me because I move at a very fast pace. Constantly reminding me that the best thing to do is to choose the right path. It is not how fast you get down that path but that you slow down enough to choose the right one. I would have to say that is by far the best advice I have ever received because I have looked down the road and seen maybe where I would have been at different times and the one I was able to go down because I took the time to make that decision. I think that is actually a really important thing to do.

I would say that one of the most important things is to not limit yourself. You don’t want to limit yourself to what your degree will enable you to do. You don’t want to limit yourself to what it is you know, because especially being young you have a lot to learn. And that when you think really big, like think really really big, set yourself goals that you can’t reach. Don’t be afraid not to reach them because on your path to reaching those goals you will be surprised at what you will be able to accomplish.

What is your favorite word?

My favorite word…My favorite word…I have never pondered it, I’m going to go with…Muffin. The word muffin is amazing, I like to make muffins. I’ve always liked the word muffin. I have no idea why, this dates back. It’s just the first word that came to mind when you asked the question and I asked myself if I could come up with something better than that and I said no. It is actually still muffin. It is just an awesome word, maybe it is the two Fs, muFFin.

Do you know your Meyer’s Briggs Personality type?

Everyone tells me I am a type A, I don’t know what that means. And I don’t know if that is fair just because they say it. What is type A?

Interviewer: So Meyer’s is the four letters and type A is independent, confident, like executing and associated with fire signs and the color red.

Oh that sounds fair. But my favorite color is definitely aqua marine.

Last question, what are you reading right now?

Oh yeah, I’m reading something right now, about 400 pamphlets I have received from the conferences I have been to. All amazing reads. I read them all, I actually only pick up ones I intend to read, that’s the key. Easily 400. You can learn so much from people in the industry.

Is there anyone else you would like to see answer this questionnaire?

So sustainability leaders in the community. I’m going to go with Jon Wardlaw. Isn’t he amazing! He has dedicated so much of his career to the voluntary service. He would be just wonderful for this.

Anything else? Anything about your business and current projects?

We do renewable energy projects with an emphasis on STEM education. We have our initiative called the Green Stem initiative. The goal is that we design programs that incorporate STEM into renewable energy and green technologies. Also our growing gears program is our 3D printing initiative that we recently launched. And the reason it is called that is because 3D printing is very applicable to being able to produce products on site which is saving in fuels miles. And with fuse deposition among 3D printers you can use a filament PLA, Poly Lactic Acid primarily made from sugar cane which is compostable. So now we are growing the plastic so that is where we got that name and it is a really exciting initiative.

As for projects one of the things that is really exciting is the Zion Garden Park Agricultural Assistance Program we are developing. I’m the project director for that. It is a wonderful community engagement program that is bringing local food to an area that dearly needs it, that suffers from very high food insecurity rates. The highest being 27.5% being right across the street from the church. The national average is a lot closer to 14%, so it is an extremely high number.

It is great to bring this healthy, nutritious, locally grown food to this community. We were out there checking out the garden just last week and they have been going in and clipping the broccoli leaves at the base of the stem. I said why are you doing that? And a gentlemen replied that they have been clipping them off and cooking it in ham hock stew. He goes “it works too, just like greens”. I just said wow I would never have thought to do something like that and I admit I have never eaten a broccoli leaf. So they are utilizing every bit of the resource.

It has been a really neat project and the collaboration has taken place with 8 different corporation partners and 10 plus additional sponsors right now. It is really exciting. There is the city of North Las Vegas that has donated components to the church garden which includes a walkway and a fence. Very valuable resources. And so the collaboration has been really exciting to see. Everybody is very excited with what is going on and we are about to start our educational component with 10 workshops and 6 live chef demonstrations. We are probably going to be running that just like school. It is going to be 4 months with every weekend something you can learn about how to grow in the desert. A very exciting program, I am glad to be a part of. I am glad to be leading and looking forward to seeing it come to completion.